Formal Requirements

With the exception of the first semester of teaching and the semester of the qualifying examination (QE), students are expected to enroll in three courses per term at the upper-division (100-199) or graduate level (200-299), for a minimum of 12 units. A student may take a seminar on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) basis if that student is enrolled in another research seminar for a grade. For seminars taken on an S/U basis, students are required to complete all assignments for the course except writing the final research paper.

For the MA, students should have completed at least 24 units by the end of the third semester; 12 of these units must be in graduate courses in the German Department. With the approval of the head graduate adviser, students may take a total of eight units of independent preparation for the QE (German 602) in the semester of this examination, or four units each in the semester before and the semester of the QE. Following advancement to candidacy and while writing their dissertations, students may enroll for 12 units of German 299 (Individual Study) per semester. There is no unit total required for the PhD.

The department’s formal requirements for graduation assume a student enters with a bachelor’s degree. Students entering the program with an MA from another institution must take the courses required of all students before the QE unless there is evidence of equivalent course work done elsewhere. Equivalency will be determined by the graduate adviser in consultation with the student, and a written statement to this effect will become a part of the student’s file. Such students will normally take the qualifying examination at the end of their third year or fifth semester. Yet the graduate adviser may grant an extension of one semester if the student’s prior course work differs greatly from the program objectives at Berkeley.

For quick reference, we have provided a PDF of the formal requirements, along with a series of possible coursework scenarios for completing the degree.

Basic Requirements (12 units, 3 courses):

  • Either Middle High German (Ger 105) , Old High German (Ger 276), or Gothic (Ger 273)
  • Methods (Ger 207)
  • History of the German Language (Ger 270)
  • Language Pedagogy requirement (3 units): Language Pedagogy (Ger 375 A or B)

Comprehensiveness Requirements (20 units, 5 courses):

Five (5) graduate courses in the department, selected by the student in consultation with faculty advisers in view of the student’s desired specialization and in view of the historically comprehensive QE and the PhD.

Further Specialization (minimum of 58 units):

  • Electives chosen in the fields of specialization and outside interests (Joint PhD/Designated Emphases)
  • Exam preparation (maximum of eight units)

Language Requirement

There are two options to fulfill the language requirement. Students are strongly encouraged to acquire a useful reading knowledge in two languages other than English and German (Option I). Many of our students choose French, Latin, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Japanese, or Turkish. Students may also choose to learn only one language other than English and German (Option III). The languages should have value for the students’ research project and probable future career needs, and are selected in consultation with the adviser. The language requirement must be fulfilled prior to the QE.

Option I (two languages)

Students choose two languages relating to their research for a reading examination in both, or by examination in one and by completing a course in the other as follows:

  • If one of the two languages is Latin or Greek and the other language will be tested by examination, students may fulfill the requirement by completion of the two-course lower-division sequence in Latin or Greek with a grade of B or better during the regular semester or in an intensive summer workshop.
  • For any other approved language with a two-course lower-division sequence, completion of at least one upper-division course taught in that language with a grade of B or better will satisfy one language of the two-language requirement.
  • In languages with a four-course lower-division sequence, the student must complete all four courses in the sequence and earn an average grade of B or better.

Option III (one language)

Requirements are as for Option 1, but involve only one language other than English and German. Students may pass by examination or by completing a four-semester course sequence with an average grade of B or better.  An upper division foreign language course that requires a four-semester course sequence as a prerequisite satisfies the requirement. Regarding examination, a passage of at least 300 words must be translated into English with a time limit of 90 minutes. 

Designated Emphases

Graduate students may add a Designated Emphasis to their plans of study to gain a particular area of specialization. The Designated Emphasis is usually added before a student advances to candidacy.

  • Designated Emphasis in Dutch Studies
  • Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory
  • Designated Emphasis in European Studies
  • Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies
  • Designated Emphasis in Film & Media Studies
  • Designated Emphasis in Folklore
  • Designated Emphasis in New Media
  • Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender and Sexuality
  • Concurrent PhD in Medieval Studies

MA Examination

The MA examination is a written exam based on a text not previously announced to the student, on methodological questions, or on linguistic problems from the student’s main field of interest. The examination is usually taken in the third or fourth semester.

By the sixth week of the semester in which the student takes the exam, the student will choose an examination committee consisting of three members, communicate to that committee an area of interest, and submit to the committee a list of works already read. The committee will choose an exam question, a text that is not on the reading list, or a linguistic problem from the area of interest and communicate it to the student two weeks before the examination. In response to the question, the student will write an essay in a three-hour time period.

Within a week after writing the examination, the committee will meet with the student to discuss the examination and the student’s progress in the program. At a meeting of the German Department faculty at the end of the fall semester, the faculty will decide whether the student will be invited to proceed to doctoral work in the program.

PhD Qualifying Examination

The PhD qualifying examination, or QE, consists of a written portfolio submitted to the student’s committee and a three-hour oral examination. The exam usually takes place in the student’s seventh or eighth semester.

In the year before the QE, the student should decide on an exam committee of three faculty members from the department and one faculty member from outside the department. This committee must be approved by the head graduate adviser six months before the exam is to take place.

Once the committee has been approved, the student prepares a reading list for the exam. The reading list should show historical breadth while also highlighting texts within the student’s area of interest. Students generally choose a theme for their exams, to help make it easier for them to simultaneously showcase breadth and their research interests. Previous exam themes have included the apocalypse, problems with hermeneutics, the translator as a narrative character, and the genetic imaginary in literature. A digital database of suggestions for the reading list is available via a Zotero group to help students get started with their own lists. The reading list must be approved by the QE committee chair a month after the committee has been approved by the graduate adviser.

In consultation with his or her committee, the student will then write a research proposal for the exam. This proposal usually follows the student’s exam topic as a “red thread” through German literary history. Sample prospectuses are available from the graduate assistant. The research proposal must be submitted to the committee by the first week of the semester in which the QE is to take place.

The student must also turn in two revised papers from seminars he or she has taken in the department (Option I) or write two three-hour exams (Option II). Most students choose Option I. These are to be turned in to the committee with the research proposal and a final draft of the reading list.

The QE is a three-hour exam. The committee will decide during the exam whether or not to pass the student. If the student passes the exam, he or she will advance to candidacy.

The qualifying examination for students specializing in Germanic linguistics takes place at the end of the fourth semester of Ph.D. work, i.e., two years post M.A. It consists of two three-hour written examinations, each of which may be extended by three additional hours for revision, and an oral examination of three hours. The written examination deals primarily with advanced problems in the linguistic study of the German language, its contemporary and historical dialects and periods, comparative Germanic, and challenging and innovative approaches in German, Germanic, general, and anthropological/sociological linguistics. Preparatory to the examination, each student will compile a reading list in consultation with his/her advisers. An outside complementary field selected by the student is examined as part of the oral examination. The three-hour oral examination is given by a four-member committee.

Presentation of the Dissertation Project

Within one year after the QE, students are expected to give a public presentation of their dissertation project. The presentation explains the topic of the dissertation, sketches out the relevant research landscape and the anticipated contribution to the field, reflects on the methodology, and previews the structure of the dissertation. The feedback from the audience – mostly the faculty and graduate students in the Department – will help the candidate in his or her further research and writing.


The final requirement of the PhD is completion of a dissertation. Students should meet with their dissertation chairs to decide on appropriate timelines for research, time abroad, and the completion of individual chapters. Students are not required to defend the dissertation once the dissertation committee has decided the dissertation is finished.

For further details and questions, please contact the Head Graduate Adviser, Anton Kaes, or the Graduate Program Adviser, Andrea Rapport.